MEAQUAS, an EU funded project, developed a reproducible histochemical method to analyse and grade meat using novel staining markers that highlight muscular structures.
Software uses image processing algorithms to quantify degree of degradation in the meat.
The project was led by Robert Damkjaer, a Danish manufacturer and involved Software for Critical Systems based in Spain and Lima in France.
It will allow high quality mechanically deboned meat produced in the EU to be identified and compared to lower quality meat often imported from outside the EU.
The technology quantifies the loss of structural integrity in chicken meat, a key indicator of quality and a way of proving mechanically deboned meat is of the same quality as hand-removed meat.
EU rules require products containing mechanically removed chicken to be labelled as mechanically deboned meat (MDM), while those containing chicken trimmings removed by hand can be labelled as chicken meat.
Once prime cuts and main pieces of meats have been cut from carcasses, there is still a substantial amount of muscle tissue attached to bones.
If recovery is done mechanically, the product is regarded as mechanically separated meat (MSM), a supposedly lower quality product.
Mechanically deboned chicken has a value of around €0.60 – 0.90 per kilogram while hand-boned trimmings are worth €1.60 – 2.80 per kg because they can be labelled as ‘meat’.
Test runs of the technology have been done for pork and turkey meat and with some fine-tuning the staining techniques can be adapted to most animal species.